When to use a Portable Generator vs a Whole Home Standby

At JK Mechanical, we know that the safety of your family and home is your top priority. National Preparedness Month (NPM) is recognized each September to promote disaster planning now and throughout the year. As you review your family’s emergency preparedness plans, you may be considering adding a portable generator or whole home generator to your emergency toolbox. This is often especially crucial in areas that see extended power outages, and for homes or business with sensitive equipment such as freezers, electronics, and work-from-home setups that depend on reliable power.

If you’ve started to shop for or research purchasing a generator, you have likely found that there are two main options: portable generators and whole-home (also called “standby”) generators. In today’s blog, we discuss the difference between portable vs. standby generators, and when it makes sense to use one versus the other:

What is a portable generator?Generac Portable Generator in Driveway

As you probably can guess from the name, a portable generator is a moveable generator, sometimes on wheels, that can be situated where you need it when in use rather than being installed in a single location. Most portable generators are fueled by gasoline and range in size and capacity. Portable generators, like standby generators, act as an inverter to convert fuel into electricity than can power a single item up to a few circuits in your home.

What are the benefits of a portable generator?

  • Like the name says, portable generators are great to take on-the-go. This makes them handy in emergency situations as well as more fun uses such as camping trips, tailgating, or construction projects. (Our team frequently uses them ourselves to power tools and equipment on construction sites!)
  • Because they’re not permanently installed, they can be tucked away when not in use. They’re more compact in size compared to standby generators as well, though this varies by brand and capacity.
  • Portable generators are less expensive up-front, partly due to lower equipment costs and partly due to needing no installation, landscaping, or permitting costs.
  • There’s less lead time for portable generators as they can be purchased off-the-shelf at many home improvement stores and fueled with a can of gas. Even during normal supply chain periods, we generally plan at least 3 weeks (15 business days) just for permit approvals from your local municipality for a standby generator.

What is a standby generator?

A standby generator provides the same basic function as a portable generator: it can be used when the power goes out to power a certain number of circuits in your home, workshop, or business. Unlike a portable generator, however, a standby generator is installed in a fixed location outside your home (similar to an air conditioner or heat pump) and tied to your electrical panel as well as a source of fuel. Those permanent connections to fuel and to your panel are what allow a standby generator to constantly monitor for power outages and turn itself on and off automatically.

What are the benefits of a standby generator?JK Mechanical Generac Generator Installation with Outdoor Transfer switch for a homeowner in Mechanicsburg, PA

  • Capacity is one of the two top reasons our clients choose standby generators over portable. Where a portable generator can typically power a few essential items or circuits (depending on the size), Generac Whole-Home generators are available in a wide variety of sizes equipped to power anything from a small home to a large facility.
  • The other top reason our clients choose a standby generator over portable is the peace of mind that comes with automatic power protection. Because a whole home generator communicates with the grid via a piece of equipment called a transfer switch, it senses when the power goes out for more than 10 seconds, turns itself on automatically, runs for as long as is needed, and then turns itself off—still automatically! —when utility power is restored. There’s no machinery to move, no switches to flip, no gas cans to fill, and no extension cords to run. It couldn’t be easier!
  • Because of the automation, a standby generator will work even when you’re not home. There’s nothing worse than coming home from vacation to find a basement full of water and a freezer full of spoiled food because you didn’t know the power went out while you were away.
  • Compared to a portable generator, an automatic generator is much quieter. An average portable generator runs as much as 90 decibels, or the same as a hair dryer in close proximity. In contrast, a standby generator runs at an average of 66 decibels, roughly the same as your air conditioner or washing machine.
  • During an extended power outage, refueling a portable generator with gasoline can add up very quickly. Standby generators are tied into a propane tank or your existing natural gas meter, which means they can run exponentially longer without refueling.
  • Generac standby generators are sold with a longer warranty than comparable Generac portable generators. Most whole home generators when professionally installed come standard with a 5 Year Limited warranty, compared to 2 years for a portable.
  • Lastly, while many safety improvements have been made in standby generators over the years, it remains much easier to accidently use a portable generator in an unsafe way that can put you and your family at risk. Never, ever use a portable generator indoors or in an unventilated area. While standby generators avoid this specific risk because you can’t bring them indoors, they can still be unsafe if not installed with correct piping and clearances. When having a standby generator installed, be sure and choose a factory-trained, licensed, and experienced dealer that you can trust in order to make sure it’s installed to correct safety standards.

Note: You may have heard about forthcoming technology from Generac that will allow solar arrays with non-Generac inverters to power battery backup systems that can function as backup generators to an extent. In addition, battery backup systems will be eligible for the same 30% Federal Tax Credit as Solar PV arrays under the new Inflation Reduction Act. This has been a highly requested product from our clients and JK Mechanical is excited to bring battery backup to our market. Prior to now, battery backup systems were available, but extremely cost-prohibitive (as in, tens of thousands of dollars without inverters or installation) both in installation and maintenance/battery replacement costs, in addition to being excluded from tax incentives and unable to retrofit to existing inverters. As more details become available from Generac regarding backup conversion and the federal government regarding the tax credits, JK Mechanical will do our best to provide information and guidance. Be sure and sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media in order to receive the latest news and updates.


If you’re considering whether or not a Generac whole home generator is right for you, Jason Stark and the rest of the JK Electrical team are here to help. Since 2015, JK Mechanical has installed hundreds of generators for satisfied clients across Central PA. To request your complimentary, no-pressure assessment, contact us here or give us a call.


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